Post #647 Fresh From The Ground

May 29, 2019 at 5:37 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve read many books on survival skills, and I’ve taken many classes on the same subject.  I’ve even spent time in the forest (supervised, of course) using those same survival skills.  I’ve got one friend who often commented during hikes that going into the wilds with me was more a trip to the grocery store than a hike.  I’ll never forget one Spring hike with my ex-wife and the look on her face when I reached out to pine tree with new growth at the end of its branches and pinched one off and ate it.  I’d read they were good; I wanted to try it; it was good.  She thought I was crazy.

I was walking the dog the other day and I noticed in one area of the path there were a couple of hostas growing lushly through the other plants.  Normally, you don’t see them outside of garden beds.  My mind went to a friend who grows them and a discussion we had a few years ago about how the new shoots were supposed to be edible.  He hadn’t tried it yet, and I never had them growing anywhere near me so I never had, either.  No idea what they taste like, but they’re supposed to be a delicacy.  I was sorry I didn’t notice these guys on the path before so I could have tried them.

But it set my brain to thinking for a few minutes about things you can eat in the wilderness.

First thing that comes to mind is berries.  I love berries.  I love walking along a path in the woods and grabbing a handful.  On one survival weekend, an instructor cautioned me to only eat things I recognized and knew to be safe.  My reply: Duh!

Some of the more exotic are bugs.  I’ve eaten far more than my fair share of bugs in my lifetime, but only regretted eating two.  Two deep fried crickets given to me by my hosts in Laos which I didn’t believe I could reasonably turn down.  I don’t recommend them.

But another bug that’s prevalent in my areas I’ve lived is the cicada.  Depending on the variety, they appear every 4, or 7, or 15, or 20 years.  And they appear by the thousands.  They lay their eggs underground and appear when they’ve reached maturity.  When they first come out of the ground is when they are most edible.  Bears, deer, even dogs find them to be a treat.  When they emerge from the ground, they’re emerald green with orange eyes and I’m told they taste like asparagus.  I don’t think I could eat more than one.  Even with hollandaise sauce.

When I was a kid in upperstate New York, the pack of us would wander through the woods like little savages and lay waste to any berries or wild veggies we found.  That’s where I discovered wild rhubarb, huckleberry trees, wild asparagus, apples, grapes, and the like.  Never a mushroom, though.  We all knew wild mushrooms would kill you.  Even cans of mushroom soup were suspect.

One thing I’ve wanted to try for years, but was never in a place where they grew, is fiddleheads.  I’ve been reading about them all my life, and in all the survival guides they’re talked about like they’re going to be the thing to save your life if you’re lost in the woods.  But only for three or four weeks in the spring because if you leave them too late, and they mature, they lose their delectability, and some varieties may even be harmful.

This is what the most common variety looks like in full growth:

And this is the part you eat:

You can see that the only time to eat them is when they first poke their heads above ground, before they uncurl into their fronds.  Like any fern, they grow fast, so the curled fronds are only available for a short time.  I have since learned that you can prep them by blanching and shocking, and either freeze them or pickle them.  Either way sounds nice to me.

Eating fiddleheads was a “something I want to do someday”, but not a driving force in my life.  Like I said, I seldom lived where they were available, and during those times when I did, it wasn’t a priority.  So imagine my delight when I was walking into the hospital for my interview and there they were, several dozen growing along the walkway.  I was sorely tempted to pick one but held off.

Then, a couple of days later, we were driving passed our current favorite diner and saw a sign “Fiddleheads Available”.   I commented that I’d always wanted to try them.  So, the next time we decided to eat out, we went there.

I had the fish and chips, and he had steak tips in teriyaki.  I told the waitress to please bring me some fiddleheads because I’d never had them before but always wanted to try them.  She got into the spirit of the thing so when she said my plate down, she set a separate bowl of fiddleheads down with a flourish and a “Ta dah!”

They were prepared simply, steamed then salted lightly.  She explained that most people liked to let a little butter melt over them, so I did.  They tasted like a wonderfully crunchy grass.  Not so much like asparagus as I’d suspected they might.  Halfway through the meal, she came back to see how I’d like them and wanted to know I wanted more.

For a couple of weeks, they were everywhere; in the markets, in the convenience stores, in the roadside stands.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them at the dry cleaners.

So, I’ll be prepared for next year.  I’ve already found an interesting recipe that could actually work for any fresh crunchy veggie:

Fiddlehead Ferns

  • 2 cups fiddleheads, cleaned
  • vegetable spray or 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 medium onion, medium chop
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup crushed nuts of choice

Steam cleaned fiddleheads for five minutes, then rinse under cold water.  Spray skillet or use oil and heat until shimmering.  Add onions and cook for about five minutes until they start to go translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for another two minutes.  Add the nuts and shake to coat, then add the fiddleheads.  Stir and shake and sauté for five minutes until heated through.  Add lemon juice and mix and serve.

So, what dish have you waited a whole lifetime to try?  Tell us about it.  Feel free to share this post with anyone you like.

As always,

 

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